Monday, 22 July 2013

Review: The Disappearing Girl

The Disappearing Girl by Heather Topham Wood is a book which I would like to see presented to girls of around sixteen (and perhaps younger if some of the sexual content was toned down or omitted). Thanks to the media, eating disorders have a higher profile than ever before and they are a stark contrast to the increasing obesity figures. Wood covers the serious issues of eating disorders skilfully which, to me, was more important than the romance aspects of this book. Although, the latter might be the main appeal for younger readers picking up this book. For this reason I see this book as being a good way to raise awareness of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa on an emotional and cognitive level, rather than a dull factual level.

The protagonist, Kayla, begins as a relatively normal and relatable girl. She is shy, a little overweight and down to earth. To put it simply she is likeable  reliable and responsible as a sister, friend and individual. The pressure of her father's death and her mother's unyielding criticism of her weight soon become too much for her to handle any longer. Kayla soon begins to binge and purge, then starts starving herself. Wood details Kayla's downward spiral and the unfortunate symptoms of eating disorders, such as pushing those who want to help away.

I won't spoil the ending for anyone intending to read the book, but I will say that I found this book predictable. I don't mean this in a negative way. However, having studied eating disorders I could already foresee what would happen next and even the ending. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable journey. As I have never had an eating disorder myself, nor do I personally know anyone who has, I do not know how accurately Wood's construction of the cognitions and emotions of someone suffering with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa were. However, Wood seemed careful not to under exaggerate or belittle Kayla in her struggles.

Needless to say, what I liked about this book was just the way that such a sensitive issue was handled and explored. Kayla's normal-ness made it feel much more real, though at times I found the romance and the character of Cameron to be a little... intense and possibly over the top. But girls in love are that way, aren't they? Strangely enough I also liked how Wood's constructed Kayla's mother. Making her out to be the  evil step-mother type character (though she is her biological mother), then linking that to her own pain over her husband's death and upbringing helps remind the reader that more than genes are passed on in a family.

I found the ending to be a rather pleasant tying up of the story. Sometimes it is nice to have some real closure at the end of a story rather than being left on a frustrating cliff hanger where you wished another chapter existed. At the same time, because I had predicted most of the plot, I did consider not reading the last chapter or two because it seemed pretty obvious how things would end.

Ultimately, I found this book to be well written, engrossing and just the right length. The characters were well crafted and the issues at the heart of the book were brilliantly explored throughout the course of the novel. It is certainly worth the price and I would recommend it to anyone who likes reading about life issues or romance. But, it isn't the most cheerful of books, so avoid reading it if you want something as a pick-me-up!

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